At Julian’s Open Window

Seeking wisdom, seeking comfort, in the midst of the sufferings, the inconceivable violence of our time, we come to the window that opens into Julian’s Anchorhold in Norwich.

Let’s listen to her:

 God showed me in my palm

A little thing round as a ball

About the size of a hazelnut.

I looked at it with the eye of my

understanding and asked myself:

“What is this thing?”

And I was answered: “It is everything that is created.”

I wondered how it would survive since

It seemed so little it could suddenly disintegrate into nothing.

The answer came: “It endures and ever will endure,

because God loves it.”

And so everything has being

because of God’s love.

(Meditations with Julian of Norwich: A Centering Book, Brendan Doyle, Bear & Company, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1983)

What Julian saw in “the eye of (her) understanding”, the astronaut Edgar Mitchell saw with his own eyes as he travelled back from the moon to the earth. He later said, “My view of our planet was a glimpse of divinity.” This photo of the earth from the moon was taken fifty years ago during the Apollo Mission of 1972, one year after Mitchell’s view of the earth from space.

As we enter into the Sacred Week of the Paschal Mystery, reliving the life/death/resurrection of Jesus, our Planet Earth, our Mother, is enduring her own passion. The vibrant blue green planet that Edgar Mitchell saw from space is in agony, her land desertified, her waters polluted, her rainforests being destroyed for profit, many of her life forms disappearing,.

What then are we to make of the promise Julian heard, “It endures and shall endure because God loves it”?

Other words that Julian heard echo in us with the familiarity of a loved song. We speak them to others, we say them to ourselves, words of comfort in times of fear or loss, anxiety or sadness.

Al shal be wele, and al shal be wele,

And all manner of thyng shal be wele.

(Marion Glasscoe translation)

What do these words mean? What is the context in which Julian heard them? They appear in the thirteenth revelation or “showing” that Julian received during her night of visions after a near-death experience. Julian became an anchoress and recorded her showings soon afterwards in what we know as the “Shorter Text”. She would spend the next twenty years in meditation and prayer, reflecting on what she experienced in that single night, writing the “Longer Text”.

Julian writes of being troubled by the suffering she sees and experiences (as are we in this year of 2022, as wave after wave of Covid washes over us, as horrific suffering is inflicted on people in a  brutal war in Ukraine…). In Julian’s mind, the cause of suffering is sin. This leads her to question why God allowed sin to happen when it might have been prevented, allowing us to live as Jesus lived.

The why of suffering still haunts us today in the 21st century. What has changed since Julian’s time is our perception of God.

The horrors of the twentieth Century, especially the Holocaust, led to a re-conception of God, seen no longer as an all-powerful being, one who can prevent the pain caused by human choice, by our blindness, our fear, our inability to love as we wish to love. Instead we have come to know a Presence of Love that is vulnerable, feeling our pain, One who will never let us go, never give up on us.

 Etty Hillesum expressed this best, writing in Auschwitz shortly before her death in 1943:

I shall try to help you, God, to stop my strength ebbing away, though I cannot vouch for it in advance.  But one thing is becoming increasingly clear to me: that you cannot help us that we must help you to help ourselves.  And that is all we can manage these days, also all that really matters: that we safeguard that little piece of you, God, in ourselves.  And in others as well. Alas, there doesn’t seem to be much you yourself can do about our circumstances, about our lives.  Neither do I hold you responsible. You cannot help us but we must help you and defend your dwelling place inside us to the end.

 Like Etty, Julian entered into a reflective dialogue pondering God’s role in allowing suffering and sin. What I find alluring is Julian’s freedom as she explores these questions. She is confident in the love she experiences from God. She does not view sin (a word that for her embraces whatever causes suffering), either her own sin or that of others, with shame or fear or guilt.

 Here is Julian’s reflection from the Longer Text: …Our Lord brought to my mind the longing that I had for him…and I saw that nothing hindered me but sin, and I saw that this is true of us all in general, and it seemed to me that if there had been no sin, we should all have been pure and as like our Lord as created us. And so in my folly before this time I often wondered why, through the great prescient wisdom of God, the beginning of sin was not prevented. For then it seemed to me that all should have been well.

The impulse to think this was greatly to be shunned; and nevertheless I mourned and sorrowed on this account unreasonably, lacking discretion. But Jesus, who in this vision informed me about everything needful to me, answered with these words and said: “Sin is necessary, but all will be well, and all will be well, and every kind of thing will be well.” 

In this naked word “sin”, our Lord brought generally to my mind all which is not good, and the shameful contempt and the direst tribulation which he endured for us in this life, and his death and all his pains, and the passions, spiritual and bodily of all his creatures. For we are all in part troubled, and we shall be troubled, following our master Jesus until we are fully purged of our mortal flesh and all our inward affections which are not very good.

And with the beholding of this, with all the pains that ever were or ever will be, I understood Christ’s Passion for the greatest and surpassing pain.  And yet this was shown to me in an instant and quickly turned into consolation. For our good Lord would not have the soul frightened by this ugly sight. But I did not see sin, for I believe that it has no kind of substance, no share in being, nor can it be recognized except by the pain caused by it.  And it seems to me that this pain is something for a time, for it purges and makes us know ourselves and ask for mercy; for the Passion of our Lord is comfort to us against all this, and that is his blessed will.  And because of the tender love which our good Lord has for all who will be saved, he comforts us readily and sweetly, meaning this: it is true that sin is the cause of all this pain, but all will be well, and every kind of thing will be well.

These words were revealed most tenderly, showing no kind of blame to me or to anyone who will be saved. So it would be most unkind of me to blame God or marvel at him on account of my sins, since he does not blame me for sin.

And in these same words I saw hidden in God an exalted and wonderful mystery, which he will make plain and we shall know in heaven. In this knowledge we shall truly see the cause why he allowed sin to come, and in this sight we shall rejoice forever.

(Showings The Thirteenth Revelation, 224-226 translation Colledge and Walsh Paulist Press, New York, Toronto, 1978)

 God showed me in my palm

A little thing round as a ball

About the size of a hazelnut.

I looked at it with the eye of my

understanding and asked myself:

“What is this thing?”

And I was answered: “It is everything that is created.”

I wondered how it would survive since

It seemed so little it could suddenly disintegrate into nothing.

The answer came: “It endures and ever will endure,

because God loves it.”

And so everything has being

because of God’s love.

(Meditations with Julian of Norwich: A Centering Book, Brendan Doyle, Bear & Company, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1983)

What Julian saw in “the eye of (her) understanding”, the astronaut Edgar Mitchell saw with his own eyes as he travelled back from the moon to the earth. He later said, “My view of our planet was a glimpse of divinity.” This photo of the earth from the moon was taken fifty years ago during the Apollo Mission of 1972, one year after Mitchell’s view of the earth from space.

(earth image 1972)

As we enter into the Sacred Week of the Paschal Mystery, reliving the life/death/resurrection of Jesus, our Planet Earth, our Mother, is enduring her own passion. The vibrant blue green planet that Edgar Mitchell saw from space is in agony, her land desertified, her waters polluted, her rainforests being destroyed for profit, many of her life forms disappearing,.

What then are we to make of the promise Julian heard, “It endures and shall endure because God loves it”?

Other words that Julian heard echo in us with the familiarity of a loved song. We speak them to others, we say them to ourselves, words of comfort in times of fear or loss, anxiety or sadness.

Al shal be wele, and al shal be wele,

And all manner of thyng shal be wele.

(Marion Glasscoe translation)

What do these words mean? What is the context in which Julian heard them? They appear in the thirteenth revelation or “showing” that Julian received during her night of visions after a near-death experience. Julian became an anchoress and recorded her showings soon afterwards in what we know as the “Shorter Text”. She would spend the next twenty years in meditation and prayer, reflecting on what she experienced in that single night, writing the “Longer Text”.

Julian writes of being troubled by the suffering she sees and experiences (as are we in this year of 2022, as wave after wave of Covid washes over us, as horrific suffering is inflicted on people in a  brutal war in Ukraine…). In Julian’s mind, the cause of suffering is sin. This leads her to question why God allowed sin to happen when it might have been prevented, allowing us to live as Jesus lived.

Julian is neither the first nor the only one to ponder these questions. The why of suffering still haunts us today in the 21st century. What has changed since Julian’s time is our perception of God.

The horrors of the twentieth Century, especially the Holocaust, led to a re-conception of God, seen no longer as an all-powerful being, one who can prevent the pain caused by human choice, by our blindness, our fear, our inability to love as we wish to love. Instead we have come to know a Presence of Love that is vulnerable, feeling our pain, One who will never let us go, never give up on us.

 Etty Hillesum expressed this best, writing in Auschwitz shortly before her death in 1943:

I shall try to help you, God, to stop my strength ebbing away, though I cannot vouch for it in advance.  But one thing is becoming increasingly clear to me: that you cannot help us that we must help you to help ourselves.  And that is all we can manage these days, also all that really matters: that we safeguard that little piece of you, God, in ourselves.  And in others as well. Alas, there doesn’t seem to be much you yourself can do about our circumstances, about our lives.  Neither do I hold you responsible. You cannot help us but we must help you and defend your dwelling place inside us to the end.

 Like Etty, Julian entered into a reflective dialogue pondering God’s role in allowing suffering and sin. What I find alluring is Julian’s freedom as she explores these questions. She is confident in the love she experiences from God. She does not view sin (a word that for her embraces whatever causes suffering), either her own sin or that of others, with shame or fear or guilt.

 Here is Julian’s reflection from the Longer Text: …Our Lord brought to my mind the longing that I had for him…and I saw that nothing hindered me but sin, and I saw that this is true of us all in general, and it seemed to me that if there had been no sin, we should all have been pure and as like our Lord as created us. And so in my folly before this time I often wondered why, through the great prescient wisdom of God, the beginning of sin was not prevented. For then it seemed to me that all should have been well.

The impulse to think this was greatly to be shunned; and nevertheless I mourned and sorrowed on this account unreasonably, lacking discretion. But Jesus, who in this vision informed me about everything needful to me, answered with these words and said: “Sin is necessary, but all will be well, and all will be well, and every kind of thing will be well.” 

In this naked word “sin”, our Lord brought generally to my mind all which is not good, and the shameful contempt and the direst tribulation which he endured for us in this life, and his death and all his pains, and the passions, spiritual and bodily of all his creatures. For we are all in part troubled, and we shall be troubled, following our master Jesus until we are fully purged of our mortal flesh and all our inward affections which are not very good.

And with the beholding of this, with all the pains that ever were or ever will be, I understood Christ’s Passion for the greatest and surpassing pain.  And yet this was shown to me in an instant and quickly turned into consolation. For our good Lord would not have the soul frightened by this ugly sight. But I did not see sin, for I believe that it has no kind of substance, no share in being, nor can it be recognized except by the pain caused by it.  And it seems to me that this pain is something for a time, for it purges and makes us know ourselves and ask for mercy; for the Passion of our Lord is comfort to us against all this, and that is his blessed will.  And because of the tender love which our good Lord has for all who will be saved, he comforts us readily and sweetly, meaning this: it is true that sin is the cause of all this pain, but all will be well, and every kind of thing will be well.

These words were revealed most tenderly, showing no kind of blame to me or to anyone who will be saved. So it would be most unkind of me to blame God or marvel at him on account of my sins, since he does not blame me for sin.

And in these same words I saw hidden in God an exalted and wonderful mystery, which he will make plain and we shall know in heaven. In this knowledge we shall truly see the cause why he allowed sin to come, and in this sight we shall rejoice forever.

(Showings The Thirteenth Revelation, 224-226 translation Colledge and Walsh Paulist Press, New York, Toronto, 1978)

2 thoughts on “At Julian’s Open Window”

  1. Thanks Anne A very appropriate reflection for Holy Week in light of all our mother earth iand all its creatures are suffering

    Like

  2. She has come to me often during our quarantine time…hers was the Black Plague; ours the CoVid Virus…she is present to me often…I am wearing a medal that came from Norwich…thanks for this, Anne Kathleen…

    Like

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